2018-05-09 / Front Page

CB 2 Discusses Controversial Property

By Thomas Cogan

The May meeting of Community Board 2 was exhaustingly long, largely because of a presentation of an issue that is fast becoming known only by an address: 69-02 Queens Blvd. 

That address is for property on the south side of the boulevard, between 69th and 70th Streets, where the developer wants to erect two mixed residential and commercial buildings having 561 residential units, 169 of which would be what the developer assumes is affordable, or is at least called that.  For several reasons, dubious affordability being but one, the project is despised by many, who made their fear and loathing plain in response to the orderly presentation made by those representing the owner, Woodside LLC.  Many of these testy spectators might have been thinking that on Monday, May 14, the whole 69-02 Queens Blvd. issue will be gone over again at the nearby school of St. Mary’s Winfield Church, 70-24 47th Ave.

The rest of the business at hand comprised more than enough for a full meeting.  Also on 69th Street, north of Queens Boulevard, is a proposed community garden that already has the favor of the Department of Transportation, Green Thumb and the International Rescue Committee.  There was an application for a sidewalk café from a well-liked Long Island City restaurant and two Landmark applications from Sunnyside Gardens.  Crossfit, the physical culture gym whose application was tabled in April, was back to try again. 

The Department of Transportation, associated with that proposal for a community garden, is the main force behind another proposal, to put protected bicycle lanes on Skillman Avenue and parallel-running 43rd Avenue in Sunnyside.  That drew supporters and opponents to the public comment segment of the meeting.  On one side were motorists, complaining that putting fixed bicycle lanes along these two streets would necessitate the removal of precious parking spaces.  Laura Shepard, who lives on 50th Street near Skillman, was outraged by that.  “To hear that one or two parking spots per block are worth more than lives makes me sick,” she said.  The life-saving reference got the endorsement of a young man who followed her, and a woman who rides a bike said she needs protected lanes, being lucky to be alive after the time a police officer took a U-turn with his patrol car and hit her and her bicycle.

Will O’Meara, a Sunnyside resident, said the loss of parking space would amount to a mere 1 percent of the current total on those two streets, adding that he’s a car owner who favors protected lanes.  Brian Howell, formerly of Sunnyside but now a Brooklyn resident, said he rides his bike all over, often returning to the place where he used to live.  He favors protected bike lanes on the two Sunnyside streets.  Speaking against protected bike lanes, Manny Fernandez, of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, said there would be a community safety meeting Thursday, May 17, 6:00 p.m. at P.S. 11 on Skillman Avenue between 54th and 56th Streets.  And Bill Kregler, a frequent commentator on local matters, said the DOT “is trying to drive us from our vehicles.”

The proposed community garden is in two triangular parts, apparently equal in size and located on either side of 69th Street.  Beneath them and that part of 69th Street is a segment of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.  The triangular lots are identified by the address of a small apartment house adjacent to one of them:  41-38 69th St.  Each one is already green with grass and one side also has a few tulips growing.  At a glance, the dual spaces seem a perfect candidate and the sponsors, comprising the DOT, the Parks Department’s Green Thumb initiative and the International Rescue Committee, are imposing.  The DOT owns both lots and each is enclosed by a chain-link fence under 10 feet high, with a (currently padlocked) gate at one end.  Steve Cooper of the board said the image of those fences is “forbidding,” but a spokesman for the proposal said that perhaps lower wrought-iron fences could replace them.  Community-based participation is certainly expected, but rivalries, should they arise, could lead to DOT disapproval and cancellation of any extension.   The position of the green spaces over the BQE brings to mind the hazards of pollution.  Soil testing would probably be in order, and the thought of growing vegetables for consumption might not be practical.  At voting time, the full board agreed with the land use committee and approved the proposal unanimously.

The latest unenclosed sidewalk café application came from Indie LIC at 43-10 Crescent St.  The woman representing everyone at the restaurant said the number of tables in the application, seven, had been lowered to six.  She said also that she and the other operators are “not crazy” and don’t threaten the neighborhood.  On weekends, the restaurant would close at 11:00 p.m. and no tables and chairs would be left out overnight.  Thus far, she said, restaurant and neighborhood get along fine, an opinion seconded by a board member.  The vote was unanimously favorable.

The Sunnyside Gardens applications came from 39-25 48th St. and 39-44 47th St.  The first sought approval of work already done to repair the front stoop; the second wanted to replace primary windows and the front door.  The man from 48th Street said his parents had owned the house and now he owns it.  The operation brought in repair of a pathway not included in the application.  The woman from 47th Street said the new windows would not be the six-pane, double-hung ones normally needed for approval, but had a special design she thought would fit within the Landmarks framework, though she proclaimed it was a first for Sunnyside Gardens.  When the board voted, the 48th Street stoop was approved but, following the land use committee’s vote, the pathway repair was not.  The 47th Street application for new, unique windows and installation of a new front door were approved unanimously.

The man from Crossfit, 47-01 Barnett Ave. in Sunnyside, was back for more.  In April, his application to place a physical culture unit within an already-existing building, located in an M1-1 zoning district, was tabled.  He re-stated his case, first repeating that Crossfit had no lockers or showers and was open Monday through Saturday.  He added that it had about 100 members, few if any of whom drove to the place, while many walked or ran to it.  Last month’s complaint about a vehicle parked repeatedly on the sidewalk was explained as holdover behavior owing to the former occupant, an auto body repair shop.  It was regretted and would be discontinued.  An 83-year-old woman told the meeting she needs it for the physical exercise she enthusiastically endorsed.  A muscular man said that at Crossfit he shed more than 40 pounds he needed to lose.  A young woman said that her year-and-a-half membership has been a life-changing experience.  No threat of tabling this month:  Crossfit was approved with but one negative vote.

At 69-02 Queens Blvd., one of the two residential buildings proposed is already under construction on the east end of the lot.  The spokespersons for the developer presented examples of other mixed use construction it had put up in Queens and other parts of the city.  At 69-02 there would be ample parking, all of it out of sight, they said, and proposed renting unused parking space to the public.  They gave it a good effort, but opposition had been heavy even before the presentation of this extensive ULURP (Uniform Land Use Review Procedure) had been introduced. 

During the public commentary, a man from Maspeth said that School District 24 was already overcrowded and this would obviously make it worse.  The name of District 24 was frequently intoned and its situation lamented.  One woman summarized it dramatically, saying that one district school is at 125 percent of capacity, another at 107 percent and a third a dreadful 136 percent.  She said the surrounding neighborhood is already rated at poverty-level and this influx of market rate and ostensibly affordable housing would make it look all the poorer by comparison.  The meeting nearby at St. Mary’s on Monday, May14 is bound to devote a greater period to both presentation and protest. 

Final notes:  Christian Murray of the Sunnyside Post announced this year’s 5-kilometer run.  It is to be held at the East River waterfront Saturday, June 2, beginning at 8:30 a.m.  He said he expects as many as 1,000 runners to compete.  And Stacey Eliuk, of Public Advocate Letitia James’s office, joined Community Board 2 as a member in April but in May had to announce that she must resign.  The P.A. office said she could not serve in both places at once.  Eliuk said she is still greatly interested in the board’s business and will try to attend each month’s meeting.  

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